Leadership With a Little “l”


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Leadership with a Little

The “Leadership” We All Know:

Leadership is one of those things that is hard to define. It’s such a big topic, that we often discuss what I call “Capital L” Leadership. Discussions of leadership, leadership development and the study of leadership tend to revolve around the great man/great woman axis.

We talk about Steve Jobs, Richard Branson or Anita Roddick. We talk about great struggles that they overcame and that they eventually led massive organizations to success. And that’s fine, but it doesn’t necessarily help the rest of us be better leaders.

It’s like saying to someone who wants to get in better shape; “Here’s a picture of Mt. Everest…if you climb this you will be in fantastic shape!!” Or, in the case of Capital L Leaders, “Look what Steve Jobs did! Now, go do that!“. It’s true that these individuals are examples of great leaders, but saying so is not really helpful.

Leadership with a Little “l”

I like to think of leadership with a “little l.” In other words, what are the things you do, day-by-day and meeting-by-meeting that model the right behaviors for others? Are you consistently connecting peoples’ work to the mission? Are you giving deliberate, consistent feedback to your people, even when it’s uncomfortable? Are you demonstrating discipline in making decisions? Are you admitting mistakes and failures?

If we, as leaders, are doing these things every day, we are modeling the right behaviors.

And that’s the secret of leadership. We have to be what we expect others to be.

Skills and disciplines like giving consistent feedback are the tactical, practical things that great leaders do. Instead of talking about “Communicating the Mission” we should come down from the clouds and decide; “How does this particular project reinforce our mission and what can I say at the next meeting that will make the connection for people such that they feel it?”

The former is the “what” of leadership (Capital L) and the latter is the “how” of leadership (little l). It’s the how that matters.

How To be a Leader with a Little “l”:

  1. Give feedback – Next time you witness an opportunity for someone to improve his/her performance, say so. Giving feedback is a gift, and even though it’s uncomfortable at times, this is what leaders do.
  2. Get feedback – Yup, put it in reverse. Ask your peers and your people for feedback. Then listen to it. And act on it. Demonstrate that you can improve just as you expect others to improve.
  3. Make a personal goal public – Set the wheels of change in motion by stating publicly that you are going to accomplish a goal.
  4. Report out – Once your goal is public, give people a once-a-month or once-a –quarter update. And don’t BS. Just tell people how you are doing and be honest about the struggles.
  5. Ask for help – Great leaders know that they aren’t alone. We all need mentors and we all need help. If you’re stuck on something, ask for help. It’s amazing how many people are willing to go above and beyond.

What actions do you take on a daily basis to lead your team? As a salesperson, what kind of experiences have you had with Capital L Leadership and “little l leadership”?

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Craig Wortmann
Craig Wortmann is the CEO and Founder of Sales Engine, a firm that helps companies build and tune their sales engine(s). He is also a renowned professor of entrepreneurship at the University of Chicago's Booth School of Business. His course, Entrepreneurial Selling, was ranked by Inc Magazine as one of the Best Courses of 2011. Craig published his book What's Your Story?: Using Stories to Ignite Performance and Be More Successful in the same year and continues to speak on the topic of using stories in the sales process.


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